The NFC East’s divisional showdown between the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles was not as close as the score would indicate. DeSean Jackson and Jason Avant each dropped a pass in the end zone. If the Eagles score seven points instead of three on those two possessions, they rout the Giants 35-17.
If you add two completions, two less incompletions, two touchdown passes and 30 passing yards to Michael Vick’s statistics he starts to look a bit like that superhero that trounced Washington in Week 10.
As usual, statistics only tell part the story. There were several plays during the Washington game when Vick was able to stand tall in the pocket for six to eight seconds. When he ran, it was with a purpose and usually for a first down or a touchdown. Vick carried the ball 10 times for 80 yards and two touchdowns in Washington. It was a devastating combination of passing accuracy and rushing yardage that enabled him to dominate the game.
When he ran against the Giants, he was running for his life. Vick managed just 34 yards on 11 carries against a stingy Giants defense that is now ranked second in the league in total yards gained against them. That’s 3.1 yards per carry. 4.0 yards per carry under his career average.
The Giants' game plan included several blitz packages that featured a linebacker and a defensive back lining up just to the right of the defensive line, and rushing off the edge toward Vick’s left. This strategy had dual purposes. Blitzing with two defenders from his left side kept him from scrambling to his left where he is dangerous as both a passer and a runner. This strategy also flushes Vick to his right most of the time.
Vick is so elusive that nothing will work every time. However, these tactics did expose a chink in his armor that can be improved upon and exploited.
Vick tends to take the up-field angle when he runs to his right. He does not extend the play toward the right sideline the way he does when moving to his left. Running toward the sideline while holding the ball in position to pass forces defenders to make a choice. They can either move up to contain Vick, which of course opens up receivers, or they can cover the receivers, giving Vick room to run.
When Vick is flushed to his right he has a tendency to tuck the ball away and take an up-field angle. In other words he ceases to be a quarterback and becomes a rusher, albeit an extremely dangerous one. On several occasions the Giants simply blitzed from the left, flushing Vick out of the pocket to his right, while other defenders stayed at home and played run defense.
This strategy did not stop Vick, but it contained him well enough to keep the Giants close in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately for the Giants, Philadelphia can now run the ball when the game is on the line. This is a luxury Donovan McNabb was never afforded during his tenure as Philly’s franchise quarterback.
Michael Vick is the most dangerous and certainly the most electrifying of the second-tier quarterbacks. Let’s say that the Falcons version of Vick was Vick 1.0. Vick 1.0 could beat you with his feet, but he was an inaccurate, poorly schooled passer. In his second year with the Eagles, Vick 2.0 can beat you with his arm, his feet and devastating combinations of the two.
Vick 2.0 employs his versatile mobility to beat blitzing defenders with varying results. Sometimes the result is an injury to Vick. Vick 3.0 could be the greatest quarterback ever. Vick 3.0 would be able to beat you with his brain as well as his arm and legs. That is the next level of quarterbacking, where Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and now Phillip Rivers reside.
None of these men can brandish Vick’s athleticism. Neither can they fall back on that athleticism in time of trouble. It is the constant honing their craft that makes them elite. What can Vick do to add what they have to what he has?
There are three things Vick should do to rise to and transcend the next level of quarterback:
1. Learn to consistently read blitz packages and audible to a run, or a three-step drop where he quickly plants his back foot and throws to a hot receiver the area that the blitzing defenders vacated to rush him.
2.Develop a relationship with Steve Young in the offseason. Steve Young was who Michael Vick is, a superb athlete who struggled to become an elite quarterback in the NFL. Steve Young was the equivalent of Vick 2.5. Vick is faster, even more elusive, with a bigger arm, but Young was smarter.
Vick’s comportment with the media and development as a quarterback proves he is not stupid and can be taught. Steve Young is a master of the West Coast offense. He had to learn precisely what Vick needs to know to get to that next level. Steve Young (Vick 2.5) was good enough for the Hall of Fame and was named to the NFL Network’s 100 Greatest Players. There is no limit to what Vick could do under Young’s tutelage.
3. Become a passing threat when he moves to his right. He can do this by running parallel to the line of scrimmage with his head up and the ball in passing position so he is a scrambling quarterback going to his right, not always a rusher. While it is generally thought of as ill-advised, the elite quarterbacks can generally throw accurately against their bodies while running to the opposite side of the field. (In Vick’s case, running to the right while throwing against his body with the left.)
The NFL is a league that copies and improves upon any successful tactic. Teams will improve upon the Giants’ tactics and employ them to contain Vick. What would happen if Vick copied those who are the most successful at his craft? Is it possible to add their study habits and tactics to Vick’s singular talents? Will we ever see Vick 3.0?
If we do, there is no known defensive scheme to keep him from doing what he did to Washington to the rest of the NFL. Scary. Beware Vick 3.0